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(Cross-posted at The Makeshift Academic)

Permit me to open with a personal story.

About a decade ago, I was running a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York’s Wayne County. One day, I ran across a story in the neighboring town’s paper describing some complaints some fine upstanding citizens made at a school board meeting about the annual district budget vote (which had passed).

One of the residents, a woman named Penny Frederick, complained that officials weren’t vigorously checking voter eligibility of what appeared to be “high school students” in front of her.

That seemed a bit discriminatory, and raised my hackles – after all, 18-year-olds can vote, right? She then went on to suggest that voters should need to go through a “qualifying” process, which set me growling audibly in my office.

She then said the following:

"We believe that if school were not in session, there would be next to no students voting. We believe that students were excused from class to vote. What a shame that students who do not pay taxes are encouraged and frightened into voting for more spending."
Let that sink in for a few moments.

It sounds really similar to another rather infamous recent pronouncement, doesn’t it?

At the time, I wrote a furious column; pointing out that A. Ms. Frederick had no evidence that students were intimidated into voting for the budget and B. whatever stance they took was a moot point as 18-year-olds are entitled to the same voting rights as anyone else under the 26th amendment of the Constitution. It’s a close cousin to the 15th and 19th amendments, which set the same parameters for race and gender. And oh yeah, you don’t have to own property or have tax liability to vote -- that’s the 24th amendment, which dispatches with those pesky poll taxes.

(The column appeared in the July 8, 2004 edition of the Wayne County Mail, which is, alas, not online)

One thing that we emphasize in political science is the “rules of the game.” That is, in order to have a stable democratic government, we can disagree on policy, but we need to respect certain parameters: universal suffrage and other civil rights on one hand, and the legitimacy of duly elected office-holders or governments on the other.

It’s arguments like Frederick's that frighten me about the future of democracy in the United States, because they drip with contempt for the rules of the game. They think if you’re young, you’re too stupid to vote. They think if you receive welfare payments or don’t pay income taxes, you have too much of a conflict of interest to vote (Senior citizens who rely on Social Security or CEOs who take advantage of corporate tax breaks always seem to be exempt from this requirement, though). They think if you don’t have a driver’s license, you can’t be trusted to vote. They think if you’re a convicted felon, you don’t deserve to vote. In practice, all of these requirements seem to count double for the poor, for females, and for racial and sexual minorities.

We’ve seen these arguments come to a head over the last five years: the bizarre fixation on our president’s citizenship; the attack on community organizing groups like ACORN; the unprecedented obstruction of routine executive appointments to the cabinet, regulatory agencies and the court system; and the spread of voter disenfranchisement laws.

But as the statements I encountered above show, the sentiment isn’t new.  I discovered mild symptoms nine years ago in an upstate New York school budget election. But much more dangerous strains showed up in the hard-right reaction to Clinton’s presidency, the John Birch Society and the Jim Crow southern segregationists, and the pre-Civil War slaveholders, who plunged the country into Civil War rather than give up power to own their fellow human beings.

Fortunately, thus far, we’ve always had just enough citizens and leaders who have pushed back on these claims – radical Republicans during the Civil War, Liberal Democrats during the New Deal and Great Society, socialist labor organizers, populist farm organizers, and activists for any number of important civil rights causes.

Look, I’m a Liberal Democrat (capital letters) because I believe in a set of public policy goals: a well-run government, a clean environment, a fair shake for workers, universal access to quality health care, education, child care and employment, a constructive foreign policy, a fair tax system, and equal protections for all regardless of gender, race or orientation.

But more fundamentally, I’m also a liberal democrat (lower-case letters) because I believe in the rules of the game: the legitimacy of elected leaders and in the legitimacy of all citizens to choose those leaders and take part in the governing process.

Making some people (by which I mean "those people") jump through ridiculous hoops to vote is an affront to the rules of the game.

Participatory democracy is a fragile thing.  One of our goals as progressives (and Progressives) is to cherish it by making sure all citizens have the real right to participate in it.

We can do better. We must do better. And that Journey starts on Election Day -- though it most certainly cannot stop there.

Originally posted to Fake Irishman on Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 10:29 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  at the same time, if (0+ / 0-)

    people who are not eligible to vote are voting, that is also an affront to the rules of the game. And a crime i believe.

    •  We should have such problems. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      What's our voting rate again? Something like 60 percent in presidential elections, 20 to 40 percent in off years?

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 05:31:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for the Republican talking point... (0+ / 0-)

      The takeaway from this is that these comments were made with zero evidence that people who were ineligible to vote were doing so -- based on the idea that some of those voters "appeared" to be students.

      Sorry, but I place the onus on people making these sorts of accusations to provide some sort of proof of ineligible people voting.  Present the proof, and I will take this concern seriously -- but until someone does so, it remains nothing more than a Republican talking point.

      Political Compass: -6.75, -3.08

      by TexasTom on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 10:40:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Look. I was born in 1969. That means that I was (16+ / 0-)

    eligible to vote at 18. You know what else I also had to do when I turned 18? I had to register for the draft (they were calling it "selective service" in those days).

    I was out of HS at the time, but you bet your bippie I voted. And I did it as a college student, way out of state. I registered, and I voted. By the way, it was the only time I ever used an old-fashioned lever machine to vote. It was more confusing than a butterfly punch card ballot.

    •  I loved those lever machines! (6+ / 0-)

      It was part of the archaic fun of living in NY.

      •  We had those in my hometown in CT! (0+ / 0-)

        I only got to use them once or twice, though, for budget referenda, before I moved out of state after college. Still, they were fun!

        Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don't ever apologize for anything. -Harry S. Truman / -8.00, -6.77

        by Shadowmage36 on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 07:40:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Same here. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fake Irishman, Shadowmage36

      Slightly older. Born in '62. I had to register for the draft even though we had none, just in case we ever were to have one again. Ridiculous. Later, I became a conscientious objector, but if I had been one at the time of registration, there would have been no official way of registering as such. Cannon fodder.

      I have voted in every presidential election and nearly every state and local election (except when I didn't meet residence requirements--only twice). I also write letters to editors at least once a month and letters to Congresscritters and Senators, too. Real letters, not online petitions or emails, because I want there to be a CHANCE that it actually makes it to said official's desk. I phone and leave messages, too.

      I vote in my union. I picket and otherwise exercise free speech. Citizenship requires far more than voting (in January I have to report for jury duty), but never LESS. I'm ALMOST persuaded by the Australian model that REQUIRES all citizens to vote, but I demur because it violates the religious liberty of some groups like the Amish.

      "I was not born for myself alone, but for my neighbor as well as myself."--Richard Overton, leader of the Levellers, a17th C. movement for democracy and equality during the English Civil War. for healthcare coverage in Kentucky

      by SouthernLeveller on Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 07:06:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But what if you could return a blank ballot? (0+ / 0-)

        If you were allowed to send in your ballot without it being filled out, at no penalty, or perhaps only if you had a religious exemption, would that be sufficient? I think that could work quite easily, though there would still need to be someone checking up on that...

        Regardless, the idea of compulsory vote-by-mail appeals to me greatly. It works in Oregon!

        Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don't ever apologize for anything. -Harry S. Truman / -8.00, -6.77

        by Shadowmage36 on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 07:56:21 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The "conflict of interest" argument (9+ / 0-)

    could be applied to everyone since everyone gets some benefit or another from government. Whether it's public safety, roads, education, courts, libraries...we're all getting something out of what government does. So we all have the same conflict and, according to some, should not be able to vote. Only those who get nothing from the government should be allowed to vote.

    So, basically, foreigners. Only non-US citizens from countries receiving no international aid should be allowed to vote in our elections. Want a new library or elementary school? Then you'll need to set up a campaign in Uruguay to get it passed.

    Let's face it. In every democratic country a certain percentage of the people will never truly believe in democracy. They are authoritarians at heart and will cloak their anti-democratic opinions in false garb so as to remain within the bounds of acceptable discourse. Ms. Frederick is one of those people and no doubt she's now a Tea Party supporter. It's shameful how much attention is being paid to these haters of democracy.

    There's a difference between a responsible gun owner and one that's been lucky so far.

    by BeerNotWar on Mon Nov 04, 2013 at 10:59:49 AM PST

  •  In some places "Liberal Democrat" is a euphemism (0+ / 0-)

    In some places "Liberal Democrat" is a euphemism for neoliberal. Nick Clegg's party of that name is in alliance with David Cameron's Conservatives. "Liberal Democrat" is not an affiliation many US liberal democrats would be happy to bear.

    Anyway, thanks for sticking up for that right so basic the Constitution doesn't mention it: the right to select one's representatives.

  •  Why I'm a Democrat (0+ / 0-)

    The teabaggers and the GOP are bunch of fascist racist homophobes.
    And yes they are on the precipice of violence and terrorism in order to create a fascist white-racist theocratic country that is comparable to the Nazis.  Their wet dream would be a Kristallnacht against liberals, gays and minorities.   I have heard this wet dream from several teabaggers.

    Don't call these racist thugs the tea party, they are *teabaggers*! Please don't insult the original Tea Party as they were patriots. Call them TeaBaggers!

    by TeaBaggersAreRacists on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 04:31:50 AM PST

  •  Why are Democrats voting for Christie (0+ / 0-)

    Any  Democrat leader endorse Christie should be shun politically

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